In the cruelest of all cruel jokes that could be played on a young team, the Cleveland Browns have now lost both their starting and backup quarterbacks over the first two weeks of the season. After losing Robert Griffin III to a shoulder injury in week one (likely out for 10-12 weeks), gritty veteran Josh McCown suffered a non-throwing shoulder injury in Week 2 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Though the timeline for McCown’s injury has not yet been announced by the organization, the agony on his face during the game and via reports from after the game do not lead this writer to believe he will be back any time soon. With him out, rookie third-round draft pick Cody Kessler is now thrust into action much sooner than anyone would like him to be.
Questioned by many when the team selected Kessler, new head coach Hue Jackson simply replied to the media, “He almost completed 68 percent of his passes. The guy has had a tremendous career. I understand where everybody is coming from, but you’ve got to trust me on this one. This is a guy that we feel very comfortable with, and we think he’s going to have an opportunity to ascend.”
Being the first quarterback drafted by a man anointed by many as a “quarterback guru,” Kessler was not supposed to see action yet. The team signed Griffin to start this season and avoided trading McCown despite a few suitors this offseason. But Cleveland Browns fans know the quarterback curse in this city is real, and now they will be forced to start their third quarterback in three weeks on the road against an aggressive Miami Dolphins defensive line.
The injuries to McCown and Griffin now leave the Browns with just Kessler as a quarterback on the active roster. Fellow rookie Kevin Hogan out of Stanford is on the practice squad, meanwhile converted WR and former quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, has been making too many positive strides at receiver to convert him back.
What that equation means is the team will likely go out and sign a free agent off the street, sign someone off another team’s practice squad or pull off a trade for a veteran quarterback to add to the mix behind Kessler. But who will it be?
Before we get there, let’s revisit Kessler’s collegiate stats real quick.
Jackson was not joking about his stats at USC, as in his four years at the school he racked up 10,339 yards while completing 67.5 percent of his passes. He finished his career with an 88 touchdown to 19 interception ratio, and an incredible 156.4 collegiate passer rating. Combine those numbers with his four years of training in a pro-style offense at Southern Cal, and it is easy to see why Jackson really liked Kessler coming out.
However, there are negatives—which is why many wanted him to sit and learn this season.
The main knock on him—sorry, it wasn’t his arm strength though that is average—was what he did in the pocket in the face of pressure. His accuracy fell with pressure and his footwork got sloppy on film. We saw both of these things in the preseason when it was his turn to play against a number of players who are no longer on an NFL roster—so hopefully the coaching staff has been working on this with him in the film room and on the practice field.
Now that we have revisited Kessler’s history, let’s take a look at a few quarterbacks who could be targeted by the Browns front office in the next 24-48 hours.
Some Veterans on the Open Market
To get us started, let’s take a look at a couple of names out there who the Browns could openly sign free and clear.
At 29-years old, the 6’4” and 217-pound Yates last played with the Houston Texans in 2015. A former fifth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Texans, Yates was 4-3 as a starter and has played in 18 games total during his career. Though he does not have any ties to the Browns coaching staff, his starting experience could be appealing.
The man dubbed “Clipboard Jesus” by some thanks to his long, flowing locks could be of interest thanks to his ties with Browns offensive line coach, Hal Hunter. Hunter was the Chargers offensive line coach from 2006 to 2012, then took over as their offensive coordinator from 2012 to 2013. In that time period, Whitehurst was his backup quarterback from 2012 to 2013 and was also on the roster in 2006.
Though he does not have success as a starter (2-7), he has played in 25 games over the course of his career. His completion percentage (55.1) is probably too low for Jackson to be comfortable about, but if they are looking for a veteran who knows the ropes of the NFL, do not be shocked if he gets a look.
Every time a quarterback goes down, the retired Campbell’s name is mentioned—in this case, for good reason. Campbell is only 34-years old, stands 6’5” and 235 pounds and already has the “elite” seal of approval from local Browns beat reporter, Mary Kay Cabot.
Okay, all kidding aside—Campbell is very familiar with Jackson. The two worked together in 2010 and 2011 in Oakland and then again in 2014 in Cincinnati. Campbell is 34-47 as a starting quarterback, and has played in 90 games total in his career with a career completion percentage of 60.3.
And who could forget his lone season in Cleveland in 2013? Campbell went 1-7, completing 56.8 percent of his passes for 2,015 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But he did show some nice chemistry with Josh Gordon during that time.
Could Sashi Brown Steal Someone Off a Practice Squad?
Earlier on Monday, fans were already taking to Twitter to express who the Browns should sign off someone’s practice squad (for the love of all that’s good, just say no to Logan Thomas). There are quite a few guys out there, but here are a few who could be real options for the Browns to try and steal away.
Aaron Murray – Philadelphia Eagles
Though Murray (former fifth-round pick) just signed with the Eagles practice squad, he could be a prime steal candidate thanks to his collegiate completion percentage of 62.3 percent and well-known toughness within the Georgia program. In college, he threw for 13,166 yards, 121 touchdowns and 41 interceptions in the best conference in college—so he certainly fits the high productive model Brown and company employed during their first NFL Draft.
Brandon Doughty – Miami Dolphins
Sitting out on the Dolphins practice squad (who the Browns just happen to play this week) is a rookie who intrigued many this year. Though there was talk he could go in the mid-rounds, Doughty fell to the Dolphins in the seventh despite a collegiate completion percentage of 68.6 with 12,855 yards, 111 touchdowns and 34 interceptions.
Doughty completed an incredible 71.9 percent of his passes for 5,055 yards during his senior year at Western Kentucky, but many questioned his arm strength, poise under pressure and NFL system fit. However, if Jackson sees him as someone who could be molded into “his system,” do not be shocked if they sign him off the Dolphins practice squad.
Matt Barkley – Chicago Bears
Talk about a fall from grace. From potential top draft pick in 2012 if he left college to fourth-round pick by the Eagles in 2013 to Chicago Bears practice squad while Brian Hoyer backs up Jay Cutler, Barkley is certainly far from the player many expected him to be. He has only attempted 49 passes, but completed 61.2 percent of them at the NFL level—including four interceptions and 300 yards.
So, why would the Browns target Barkley? Once again, production. He completed 64.1 percent of his passes in a pro-style offense in college for 12,327 yards, 116 touchdowns and 48 interceptions. If Kessler fit the mold of Jackson based on his collegiate film, Barkley could do just the same.
Will the Browns Have to Trade for a Backup?
When you look at what is out there on the free agent market and on practice squads (barring a Campbell un-retirement party on the Shores of Lake Erie), there really are not players who can serve as a veteran capable of starting if Kessler isn’t ready. For that reason, let’s look at some trade options.
Mike Glennon – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Here we go again, the wheels are spinning on the Glennon wagon. Entrenched behind Jameis Winston, Glennon sports a 5-13 record as a starting quarterback, owns a 58.8 completion percentage and has 4,025 yards, 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions under his belt. With starting experience and understanding of an NFL offense, his name will likely come up in trade discussions.
Joe Webb – Carolina Panthers
Someone will likely bring up Derek Anderson’s name, but I want to take a gander at the Panthers’ third string guy. At 6’4” and 230 pounds, Webb can likely do some of the things in a Jackson offense that they were trying to install with Griffin thanks to his athleticism (2,774 rushing yards in college) and 4.43 40-yard dash speed.
Where does he stack up as an NFL passer? Well, he’s only started two regular season games (with Minnesota in 2010), and played in four total as a quarterback. He completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 853 yards and three touchdowns, while dishing out five interceptions. He has rushed for 272 yards with four touchdowns, and caught seven passes for 58 yards. He did start a playoff game in 2012, throwing for 180 yards, one touchdown and one interception and rushing for 68 yards in a loss.
Maybe I am going out on a limb here, but he could just be an “outside the box” type of guy this organization considers.
Brett Hundley – Green Bay Packers
Okay, are the Packers likely going to deal Hundley after vowing to develop him behind Aaron Rodgers last year? Maybe not. But here is what we know and why he could be considered by the Browns.
Hundley was often compared to Campbell (insert Jackson connection here) coming out of college, has the athleticism to move the pocket the way Jackson likes to and his fifth-round investment by the Packers a year ago makes him expendable and affordable at the same time. At 6’3” and 230 pounds, he racked up 9,966 yards, 75 touchdowns and 25 interceptions with a completion percentage of 67.4 in three years at UCLA before leaving early. He also rushed for 1,747 yards and 30 touchdowns, and even caught a touchdown pass during his collegiate career.
Some thought he could break into the first round, which is likely why he left school a year early following the 2014 season, but some of his developmental issues pushed him down the draft. His ability to read a defense was one of the most common called into question, so who knows where he is at in his development. But if Jackson believes in the Campbell comparisons, he might be on their radar.
Sean Mannion – Los Angeles Rams
Okay I’ll admit it, I wrote St. Louis twice before realizing I needed to write Los Angeles. With that said, Mannion could be an easy target with No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff being elevated to No. 2 QB and Jeff Fisher’s love of Case Keenum. He will likely be the No. 3 QB for the foreseeable future, which could make him very cheap.
Here’s the good on Mannion. He’s 6’6” and 230 pounds and a former third-round draft pick. He racked up 13,600 yards passing, 83 touchdowns and 53 interceptions with a 64.6 percent completion percentage at Oregon State. At times, he flashed the potential to be a big-play waiting to happen at the next level.
Here’s the bad, those big-plays could go either way. He was slow to get through progressions at times, leaving himself open for interceptions and being stripped (30 fumbles in college). He also struggled at times with pressure and dropped his eyes often on film and missed receivers. Not to mention he isn’t the most athletic guy in the world.
So why would Jackson want him? QB gurus fall for QBs for various reasons, with size and arm being at the top of those lists (Jackson was Joe Flacco’s QB coach). A guy like Mannion showed so many flashes on film leading up to the draft that scouts would salivate at times about his potential. If Jackson thinks he could work with him, do not be surprised if he is brought in.
Geno Smith – New York Jets
Okay, I went there—do not crush me yet. Smith is the most veteran player in the trade section of my list, as he has started 29 games thus far in his career with an 11-18 record. The Jets clearly want to go with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but Smith does have some production at the NFL level with 5,836 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 57.9 percent of his passes.
However, there is the bad—35 interceptions, 16 fumbles and being punched in the face by a team member which cost him quite a few games. Maybe he is misunderstood, maybe he is an ass—we may never know.
What I do know is Smith is 26-years old, threw for 11,662 yards, 98 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in college and fits the mold of a “roll the dice” type of guy for this organization thanks to his production level. I am not sure if the Jets would give him up for cheap because he is their backup, but with draft picks Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg on the roster as well, at some point the Jets will be willing to part with one of the four QBs using up roster spots.
**Side note, Petty could also firmly be in consideration just based on the fact that the Browns could add another Baylor guy to the mix and he has chemistry with Coleman from the 2014 season.